WBT-AM (1110), Charlotte’s first radio station and one of the first licensed broadcasters in the nation, was sold Tuesday for the second time in eight years and may be spun off again in coming months.
Greater Media, based in suburban Boston, which acquired WBT and sister station WLNK-FM (“Link” 107.9) in 2008, announced it had entered into an agreement, subject to regulatory approval, to sell its assets to Beasley Media, which acquired seven radio stations in Charlotte from CBS Radio in 2014.
Under federal regulations, a single company can own only five FM stations in one market and up to three AM stations in combination, meaning Beasley would need to sell one of its FMs in Charlotte if it wanted to keep WLNK. It could retain the main signal of WBT-AM if it chose to but would have to shed its FM simulcast at 99.3 FM.
“Beasley intends to divest certain radio stations in Charlotte to obtain FCC approval of the proposed transaction,” the companies said in a joint statement.
Greater Media paid $100 million for WBT and WLNK in 2008, which came as the recession was beginning to ravage the Charlotte economy. By today’s prices, the combination would likely sell for no more than $60 million, and probably less.
Greater Media is privately held, so its expenses are opaque to outsiders. But as the recession ground on, WBT continued to be one of the city’s top billing stations for advertising, in part because its news/talk format was compatible with heavy loads of ad spots.
But in the last six months, WBT has trailed WFAE-FM (NPR, 90.7) in overall ratings, a first two-quarter sweep for the noncommercial public station that signed on in 1981.
With WLNK on the FM dial, Beasley acquires the syndicated “Bob and Sheri” show in the morning, and “Matt and Ramona” in the afternoons, two strong performers in Charlotte.
Beasley Broadcast Group, based in Naples, Fla., will acquire Greater Media for about $240 million, which will include about $100 million in cash and about $25 million in Beasley stock. Beasley said it intends to refinance about $80 million of Greater Media debt.
Nationwide, Beasley adds stations in seven areas where it does not operate stations and in Philadelphia and Boston where it does but will not run up against the Federal Communication Commission ownership cap.
RBC Capital Markets and U.S. Bank are providing financing for the sale, Beasley said.
Among Beasley’s top stations in Charlotte are WSOC-FM (103.7) and WPEG-FM (“Power 98,” 97.9).
Greater Media admitted at the time of the purchase of the Charlotte stations that it paid a premium but that it wanted to move away from more stagnant markets in Detroit and Philadelphia into the then-booming Sun Belt.
“We paid a good price, we paid a fair price,” Peter Smyth, president of Greater Media, said at the time, “but we were committed to Charlotte, and the only way to do that is to step up to the plate.”
WBT and WLNK were sold by Lincoln Financial, which was trying at the time to divest its broadcast holdings. Charlotte, Smyth said at the time, was the “crown jewel” in Lincoln’s holdings, which included stations in San Diego and Miami.
When the deal closes, Beasley says its portfolio of owned and operated stations nationally will total 73 (52 FM and 21 AM) in 16 cities.
WBT was the first licensed station in the South in 1922. It has had a variety of owners through the years, including CBS and Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Co., later Jefferson-Pilot. Its 50,000-watt signal is audible from Canada to Cuba.
“We are delighted that our stations will become part of Beasley’s expanded footprint,” Smyth said in a statement Tuesday. “As part of the Beasley portfolio, we believe our stations will be positioned extremely well for future growth and that our team members, customers and the communities we serve will continue to thrive.”